Profile : Hangin’ With Doug E. : VIEWING LIFE IN HARLEM ON A NEW KIND OF ABC SITCOM
There was an old lady who lived in Bed-Stuy,
She bumped in a wall because she was high,
She jumped out the window ‘cause
she thought she could fly,
I looked out my window,
I saw her go by.
That’s an example of life in the drug-infested borough of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, as described in a collection of nursery rhymes written by Doug E. Doug.
Doug, 24, has made a habit of expressing his real-life experiences through different artistic forums. When he was in high school, Doug agreed to play Scrooge in a school production of “A Christmas Carol” at the request of his principal. Only Doug filtered Charles Dickens’ classic tale through his own urban framework and transformed the 19th-Century classic into a 20th-Century “homeboy” tale.
Instead of saying “Bah, humbug,” Doug’s Scrooge would just say, “Ah, get the hell out of here.”
Now, Doug’s stark background has found its way into a network comedy series. In the new ABC sitcom “Where I Live,” which loosely reflects his own life, Doug plays a Harlem teen-ager who hangs with his friends on the stoop outside the apartment house where he lives with his middle-class family.
“I always wanted to be a comedic actor,” says Doug, who took to the road as a stand-up comic at 17, performing as an opening act for Miles Davis and Kool and the Gang.
“So when the show’s producers approached me about creating a sitcom based on my family life, I was thrilled. I was a pretty crazy teen-ager. In high school I used to tell jokes to friends in the hallway like, ‘My family was so poor, my family was so poor, my family was so poor they’d go to Kentucky Fried Chicken and lick other people’s fingers.’ ”
Doug has performed at such New York City comedy hot spots as Sweetwaters, Uptown Comedy Club and the Comic Strip. He received his break from “Malcolm X” director Spike Lee, who saw Doug’s routine at the Apollo Theatre and gave him a bit part in his 1990 film “Mo’ Better Blues.”
Doug went on to earn a best-actor nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards for his role in “Hangin’ With the Homeboys,” and he starred in Kid ‘N’ Play’s film “Class Act” last year.
Executive producer Michael Jacobs first caught Doug’s stream-of-conscious comedy when he was hosting a New Year’s Eve special in 1991. “He struck me as quite original and different,” recalled Jacobs, who created the ABC sitcom “Dinosaurs” for Walt Disney Television.
“I thought it would be very interesting if we did sort of a black ‘Our Town,’ ” Jacobs said. “Only instead of Hal Holbrook taking us through Grover’s Corners as a stage-manager character in a vest and a pipe, I thought it might be interesting to contemporize it, and have Doug basically take us through Harlem.”
Because he was raised in a more privileged environment, Jacobs teamed up with Ehrich van Lowe to create and executive produce “Where I Live.” Van Lowe, an African-American who grew up in the Bronx, wrote for “The Cosby Show” and is currently overseeing Fox’s sitcom “Roc.”
“I said, ‘Look, I do not want to be the white producer of a black show that is set in Harlem,’ ” Jacobs says. “Even though the idea that I had is creatively very satisfying, my experience certainly does not reflect the reality of the situation. Fortunately, Ehrich and I shared a similar vision for the show.”
For “Where I Live,” Disney built a replica of an entire brownstone city block inside Stage 3 on the Disney lot. Half the series takes place on the outside stoop; the other half inside the apartment with Doug’s family.
Even though it was set to go, ABC was reluctant to premiere “Where I Live” with all the other new prime-time series last fall because of its unusual look and realistic take, Jacobs says. And as in “Our Town,” Doug turns to the camera occasionally to give the audience his direct thoughts--a technique that rarely goes over well on series television.
Doug, now in Calgary with John Candy shooting the feature film “Cool Runnings,” about the Jamaican bobsled team in the 1988 Olympics, doesn’t appear to be worried about whether his show will find an audience. “I think that people from all cultures will appreciate the humor on our show and, hopefully, the underlying messages too,” he says.
“Where I Live” premieres Friday at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.
IN DOUG’S WORDS
Other poems in Doug E. Doug’s collection:
yo dead, bird get up and fly.
Sex is a big headache to me. You gotta always worry
about wearin’ a condom...
in fact, I’m wearin’ one now.
There’s a lot of nasty people out here who will give you
a disease and won’t care.
I used to mess with this girl, she gave me herpes.
I used to mess with this girl who worked at a pet store...
She gave me ‘chirpes.’
I used to mess with this girl who worked at 7-Eleven...
She gave me ‘Slurpees.’
I used to mess with this girl who gave me VD...
I used to mess with this girl who was a rap fan...
She gave me E.P.
I used to work with this girl who had a Saturday Night Fever
She gave me the ‘BeeGees.’